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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  December 27, 2009 5:00pm-6:00pm EST

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death. but then before he went off to be a rhodes scholar, the summer before, he was still on his great writer mission and he was offered a job as a summer intern by the "washington post." and he turned it down. he turned it down to become a stevedore on a derrick barge on the mississippi. and the reason this was still part of his great writer quest he felt that in doing so that he coded in the mueller that he was that he could encounter so many crews of so many different colorful characters that you could write a novel that would be a serious contender to huckleberry finn. mark twain was the one he was trying to knock down. well, still it didn't happen,
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but in his store he says in his desk drawer there lies a manuscript, still unfinished, about the happenings on a derrick barge on the mississippi as a captain tune as his name is and i think that since we have walter here this evening we ought to welcome it to him that if he can just get out that manuscript and polish it off will all come to hear you read some of your book. i feel that is new but, "american sketches," is really a comment if a personal quest, but i felt that it was very much like the quest or the mission of the aspen institute, which he is the president and ceo.
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and it's part of that mission is that in certain points of our lives, many feel the need to reflect on what it takes to lead a life that is good, useful, worthy, and meaningful. we passed three. and i team 90 when we saw the consequences in both the business of personal dreamiest of becoming unhinged from our underlying value. and so in america this is what is the hardest. at the heart of "american sketches" is his quest to discover what there are in the lives of some dozen people who are included in this book. that has allowed them to be such successes in life and not surprisingly it's not also the intelligence. what defines is that all these
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individuals had such manic curiosity it just consumes their imagination and creative abilities and that's what was the special gifts that they brought to the world. so here is someone to talk talk about his book. [applause] >> thank you very much, barbara. it's great to be back in my favorite bookstore here and especially with you with that wonderful introduction. it is funny to hear the talk about being the real writer. i was once asked to do something for the "washington post" page that you may know called the writing life. i wrote something of my daughter who is 13 and spent a lot of time in the store and she was truly an aspiring novelist and she said to me, dad, you're not a real writer. you're just a journalist and a biographer. and to that i plead guilty. as much as i did have that yearning to be a real writer, i began to see what a glory it was
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to have the joy of being a journalist and a writer. because what you get to do is follow people, understand how they act, and understand how they affect our time. you know, the founder of the magazine where i worked for so long, "time" magazine, was accused because he always did sort of biographical portrait on the cover, sort of indulging in personality journalism. and he said no, "time" magazine did not invent personality journalism, the bible did. that's how we tell stories that have meaning. that's how we try to convey the moral lessons of our time. so is barbara said, but always try to be interested in creative people. you know, if you're in this bookstore, if you're in this town, you know it whole lot of smart people. i'm not sure if this is working. you know a whole lot of smart
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people. a new kind of realize after a while that smart people are a dime a dozen and that they don't often amount to much. what does matter is creative people. people can take out of the box, come up with something new. and so, in this book i try to look at very smart people and figure out how they had to have a moral center, how they had to think differently, how they had to be creative. for example, in 1905 all the smartest physicist in europe were trying to figure out why the speed of light seemed constant. there were a lot of people who are smarter than albert einstein in terms of their learning and their knowledge. they are the buzz max plonk, they're all working on this problem. i was simply a third class patent club working at the swiss
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patent office. but in his spare time he realized that the speed of light is always constant and as you try to catch up with the speed of light, time slows down for you. it was an amazing leap of imagination, inactive creativity that was done by a patent clerk and not by professional scientists. in fact, took them another five years before he even got another job as a academic scientist because that's how i took the rest of the scientific community to figure out the sleep of the imagination. and so whether it's henry kissinger or hillary clinton or bill clinton or benjamin franklin or ronald reagan, i've always tried as a journalist to look at what made somebody standouts, why did they have a special characteristic that made them different from the people around them. as barbara said, i got inspired by the first real writer i ever knew, walker percy. and i do hope his books are
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still here because i will tell you that i marvel at his philosophical grace and his understanding what. every time i pull down the copies of the moviegoer or the last gentleman from my cells. you know, he was the uncle of my best friend, a guy named tom cowan. so when were young we used to go across to new orleans and go fishing and turtle hunting and waterskiing at uncle walker's house. nobody quite knew what uncle walker did. i wanted to ask his daughter, and, what does your dad do? he is at home all day. she said well, he was a doctor but he never practiced. that's why he was called dr. percy in town. but he stayed at home and wrote. only a few years later, after the moviegoer had finally become famous, that i realized that being a writer was something you could actually do for a living,
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just like being a doctor or an engineer or a fisherman or anything else. so i said that's really cool and as barbara said i was growing up in new orleans. i started hunting the order bars in which william faulkner and tennessee williams and i keep a journal and a corner table at the napoleon house. i was safe in those pretensions, partly by journalism. i was finally able to get a job at the times, at police headquarters starting at 5:00 a.m. as a summer job. and i realize that even if i might never write the great american novel, i was a dig into the notion of storytelling. that was another thing walker percy had taught me because after thumbing through his novels and realizing this is a real writer, he was put up with my earnest questioning. i talked to them some. and i sort of began to notice that there were messages in his
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wonderful tales, and message in a bottle sort of thing. and they were philosophical. sometimes religious messages. so i would ask him about these messages and the things he tried to do with the story. and he would really talk about it much. he said there were two types of people that came out of louisiana, preachers and storytellers. if you're going to be a storyteller. last night once again it was sort of the way the bible does it. the parts of the bible that work are those wonderful storytellers, stories that tell you the moral lessons in a subtle way. i mean, after all it's one of the great leap of all-time, in the beginning, and it tells you the power of chronological storytelling. so that's what dr. percy taught me, too. and so, as a journalist i was able to just tell tales. i remember the first day i was on the job and i had the worst of all possible stories you could be assigned to cover.
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it was the murder of a very small child. i went to carlton avenue and was there with the police, and these were the days before blackberries and e-mails and cell phones were available. so i went to the corner drugstore, put in my diet and called the newspaper to dictate the story to the rewrite desk. and the rewrite man with a grizzled old guy named billy rainey and after he dictated that i had come he said well what do the parents say? i said i didn't talk to the parents. so go back in there, knock on the door, and talk to the parents. but i got up my courage and knocked on the door and i discovered the next lesson of writing and journalism, which is people want to talk. i got invited in, they wanted to show me the album, they kept talking on and on about how wonderful this baby girl was. and as i did so, i realized that this was part of the transaction of both storytelling and
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journalism and how we do things. and at one point the woman touched me on the knee and said, i hope you don't mind me telling you all of this. i was reminded of that many years later. i was at time magazine and woody allen had just gotten into that kerfuffle by having dated mia farrow's daughter. and so it was a great big scandal. and suddenly the phone rings at time magazine where that was and is woody allen who i didn't really know saying that i come over, he wanted to give an interview. i went over to his apartment, it was just woody allen and myself sitting there and woody allen once talked. this was not what you would call it very good idea on his part, but he talked for hours. he actually said something that became a pretty famous phrase. because i asked him, how could he do it? he said well, the heart wants what it wants. that became one of the quotation that the scandal was known by.
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the key to touched me on many halfway through and said i hope you don't mind me telling you all this. i felt like woody allen psychiatrist. and i said this is what i do for a living. i actually get paid for this. it was the great lesson of journalism is one of the reasons we have narrative stories is that people like to tell and like to work out the moral lessons and everything else through the stories. when i was working on the times began i try to prove myself every now and then. i would just pick a city, town, a village at random in southern louisiana and chew up there and say i'm going to find a story. at one point i went to louisiana and the cajun country in the sugarcane country and did a series of stories on the sugarcane workers. and i realize what a rich narrative tale it was at this point i was still a laugh in my
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still writers face and i read james agee still too often. i felt the stories read too much with literary attention amah but they were useful in getting the next stage of my life. i'd gone to college and i had heard somebody whose book you have a front right now who is now still a friend of mine, terry evans. terry evans was then began crusading editor of the sunday times of london, some of you know him now as the memoirs have just come out. and so they came to speak at my college days journalist had gotten delayed here it is that without any pretense of humility, i sent off my cougar came to him in london and then didn't hear anything, never heard anything back. go back six months later. i got a telegram in my door. and by the way, getting a
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telegram in your dorm was probably just as unusual as it is now. i've never gotten a telegram. it was not an unlimited basis and signed by someone i've never heard of. it took me a day or two and finally a letter arrived and it was an offer from the sunday times of london. i went over, got an old icelandic airlines if you remember that, the really cheap ticket. found myself in london and works for the sunday times for summer. it was there i met another of the characters i like talking about, the most journalist i ever meant, a guy named david blondie. he was a guy who was really thin, tall, always tightly coiled, so much so that he looked like a figure in an animated cartoon character as he was sort of unfold themselves in various ways. i was sent by harry evans while i was there up to a town called
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dundee, scotland. and it was under the theory that harry had that i was an american. this was 1973. and since i was an american i was like woodward and bernstein was suddenly become famous and was uncovering watergate. this was not true because one thing about writing about people, the way i do, is that you do it because you tend to like people. this is great for writing biographies. it's really bad for being an investigative journalist gives you totally sympathize with whoever you're writing about. so i'm out there in dundee, scotland, and there is a mayor who was the lord provost as he was called and i finally uncovered the story about all sorts of land shenanigans and rezoning and some very mysterious murder. as i write this story and harry is so baffled by it he sends him out to help me with it. i was kind of embarrassed
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because it was really proud to be sent up there. i got into the airport in dundee and onto the counter to get the car. and then i was told i was not old enough to rent a car. so i've been hitchhiking around without telling my editors that i haven't been able to rent a car. so finally one day get the car and we get back to the hotel and the hotel clerk says, by the way, somebody is in your room. didn't phase me. all of a sudden, he totally unfurls his great height and just assumed that some bug sent by the lord provost so he turns to me and says you take the elevator, i'll take the stairs. the point of this totally alluded me but i take the elevator to get there about the fifth floor about the same time, barge into the room, david urges him. he was a chain smoker so humid delhi collapses and starts wheezing and this poor guy who is a television repairman
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scatters out with the tv still all in parts. but david got me the notion of just getting out in the world. how important it was as a storyteller to be there and meeting people. i was in belfast with him once. we were at the europa hotel. it was a tuesday and there was a demonstration going on. now, the sunday times as you can probably figure out comes out only once a week am on sunday. there's really no reason to be covering the demonstration on a tuesday. david said we had to get out there. i said well, it looked kind of changers and he says no, no. he shows me that you get there and there's a lot of violence, but after a block away or half a block away that people just standing there watching and you really get the story. and while we were out, a bomb actually went off in the europa hotel near the bar where i was sitting. he said the appeal lesson to you. it was always sort of a lesson to me and tell david, and some
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few may know, got shot by snipers bullets while covering el salvador. so i never quite figured out the full import of what that lesson was supposed to be. they stand on the sunday times helped me get a road scholarship as you mentioned. i was not actually the best grade or the best student. i had two advantages. one is that i came from louisiana and they had to give them from people in louisiana. as i can add bylines in the british newspaper. as you can imagine people of the rows collection community are over and pressed by people of bylines in english newspapers. they tend to be anger files. and so i got the fellowship. i was shucking oysters at a bar across the street from felix is in new orleans at the time, it was kind of convenient because
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nobody in this oyster bar had any idea what a road scholarship was that kept me from being nervous. but i do remember i did get nervous because i was still vaguely in my real writers stage when i realized on the panel was willie marx. he was a great southern writer. i was totally intimidated by him. bill clinton of all people said to me now, you don't remember who else is on your panel. he said i was on your panel. [laughter] i was in london last you out if you're in the boat and that kind of question. bill clinton had an amazing, amazing memory. he is not just a lawyer in little rock who ran and lost a race for congress. but he really uncertain ways has docked me or or his ghost has dogged me throughout my career. i got to oxford and i had one of the most amazing professors i've ever had.
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a guy named dr. paul chomsky. and dr. paul chomsky taught philosophy and politics and early on in one of our sessions he assigned me to write a paper on how democratic tendencies were reflected in authoritarian regimes. so i took off the paper and give it to him. he said this is really not that good of a paper. i said well, i'm sorry for your. he said i'm going to give you a copy of the paper that somebody wrote a few years before you and you may know who he is. and i looked at the name and i said no, i'd never heard of him. he said well you are from louisiana are into? i said yes sir. and this person is from arkansas so you must know him. that must've meant i was annoyed enough at the time that i allowed that, not only did i not know him, but i did not tell anyone from arkansas and never had known anyone from arkansas ever. but i did read the paper and it
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was called democracy and the soviet union by bill clinton. probably forgot about it. years later in here in washington, washington bureau, working at time magazine said the national editor coming back and forth. i get a phone call from him and the great reporters started calling me and wants to interview me for the "washington post" about dell clinton. i said well, that's great. and so he said should i give him that paper? i'd forgotten all about the paper. i said yeah, that paper. so i thought real quickly. democracy in russia and remembering that paper sentences taken out of context and frankly sentences taken in context would not have been too good knowing that campaign in which
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republicans robert criticize him for even having gone to russia. and i realized this would derail his campaign if why russia is really a democracy his paper had come out. so i was that without moral dilemma of do i tell this nice, wonderful, sweet old professor gas, give out that paper. so finally i said, while dr. kochanski i don't know what he should do. however if it was my paper i would prefer that you ask me first. and so, fortunately he says yes you are right, i'll ask them. i will ask the clintons before i give it out. that result when dilemma but then i had another dilemma, which is i still thought i might have a copy of this paper and i was at "time" magazine and it would be a great scoop. [laughter] so i call home to new orleans to get my data on the phone and i say dad, can you go to the basement by the workshop behind the table saw there is a white chest of drawers were all my papers are.
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go in there and see if you can find a paper from bill clinton, by bill clinton. and dad says, sure i'll do it and call you back. i says no, no i'll hold on. he comes back quite upset because even before katrina we used to flood all the time and he said the basement has flooded a few times and it sort of destroyed those things and your mother flew out all those papers. i was secretly relieved because i didn't know what i would do if i do paper in my hand that would do real the candidacy of bill clinton. kathy, my wife and i., wait years later to see dr. kochanski and retirement and he pulls out a scrapbook. there's the paper. does anybody know who betsey wright was? she was in charge of damage control. and then the telegram that he got for betsey wright saying do not release paper, letter to follow. i told him he should send the
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paper, which he did to the clinton library because i believe those of us who are historians should at least have the right to that paper, even if the journalist doesn't have it time thought it was a good idea not to. i eventually made my way back to new orleans and the one thing that was going to take me away from being the writing life of the so-called writing life was my daughter put it was when i got a call from gore or meyer. he had been a mysterious person in the british embassy in london and the american and london. he got to know a lot of students. he wanted to visit me at the swimming pool at the airport hilton hotel in new orleans. where most of you know if you've heard of him he was actually a cia station chief and then head of operations for the cia. so he tried to talk me into coming into the cia. the conversation didn't go well
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because house with your new through that of course we don't want you to be an agent. we don't want to be a covert agent. we wanted to be an analyst at headquarters. and i sort of thought is dashing covert agent and suddenly my hopes are dashed, which is so for chilly that same week there'd been a senior editor at "time" magazine. my whole thing was doing a whole lot in the days before they had layoffs. so they sent a senior editor and a trip around america because they had decided they need to find writers from as they put it out there to go to "time" magazine. this guy is spent a whole year finding writers out there. fortunately, he got to new orleans just when i had finished writing about the mayor's race we had back then, right after boot landrieu was retiring and i've been promoted from police headquarters to city hall by this point. and there were 12 people running for mayor in new orleans.
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as the wonderfully colorful race. you'll see ruth's steak house founded by ruth for tile in new orleans. his husband was one of the 12 candidate and more a gorilla suit at every appearance because his only link in this platform is having a gorilla for the ogden park zoo. [applause] so i went to every precinct chairman and every war leader and every bar and every part of the city and i said tell me how your briefing is going to go. give me a your percentages and will figure it out. a letter. after everyone of them and i said just sort of taking a flyer in my column before the race happened. here's how it's going to turn out. here's the order they're going to finish deniers the percentages they're going to get. well, it turned out partly out of luck and partly out of smart while these precinct captain to be just right. so they are counting this just as does this guy's trying to recruit people to go to "time" magazine. i went home and told my mother i was asked to go to "time" magazine or the cia.
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she had a strong opinion. i ended up going to "time" magazine. pray before i left i went my very final column for the runoff in the mayor's race. i had this new job, i figured i knew everything, was full of myself. i didn't go see every precinct leader. i wrote a column saying he was going to win. i got that one wrong which also taught me a lesson, which is still do the legwork. when i got to "time" magazine, they bring me up to 34th floor because i was the only person out there that this guy had found. so they bring me up to steve hadley donaldson, some of you may know him. he was a advisor to president carter. he was a truly distinguished gentleman. two or three editors including this guy and i got presented to hedley golovin who was on the top of the time building. slightly bigger than this room. huge white carpeting as far as
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the eye can see. and it is rumbling voices that i'm so glad we found someone from out there because everybody so far we seem to have hired seems to be from harvard and oxford. so i laughed, thinking he's making a joke. he says, where did you go to college? i laughed again and again he's making a joke. all of a sudden jason manis who brought me up sort of nervously is nudging me. so i kind of said harvard, but i made it sound like auburn and he actually from then on they never brought me to see hedley donovan again, but i think he thought for the rest of the time that i've gone to auburn. one of the things that we try to do because of that is when i became editor of time it was true that to get isolated as a journalist, it especially they are. we used to get a greyhound bus in jurors were 50 stopping at pta meetings and town halls and
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bowling alleys and rotary club breakfast. so that people could get a sense of what was really on people's minds. the last trip we took instead of doing the bus trip, we printed, i always wanted to do, we went for a missouri and then went down to new orleans. while i was at time, it's where billy got bitten by the notion of covering people but also about the possibility of writing books. otto friedrich was my senior editor. wonderful old man with a bushy red mustache who was totally and always and constantly amused by himself. he just would walk or run started smiling. and he wrote books on the side. i said i did it, this is really cool. this is a weekly magazine so we can sit here and just right hooks for four days a week and write the article and friday. you know, it's like college, you figure out the key to all
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things. and so i've been put on the reagan campaign in 1980. and i kind of noticed that that rallies we went to on the fringes of the rallies there were always these people handing out leaflets and pamphlets that talked about the establishment and the elite and there was always a trilateral commission and the dotted line to the group and the council on foreign relations and their little circles and all that. and without these goes establishment with rockefellers and everybody else was totally controlling everything. i was totally baffled by this. but what of my close friends went on to college with the now within "time" magazine with was evan thomas of this town and under the theory that evan was east coast preppy and that i was just from louisiana you would understand and i started asking him about the establishment. we thought why do we write a book about these goes establishment. now at first we were doing a
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book, amorphous talk about these goes establishment. but what i said about the lesson of always tell it through people, great characters, we decided to just pick six people who were the core of what was supposedly the american establishment. and evan and i were at a house with zach harbour and he is an early morning person and i'm a layperson so i would save until 5:00 a.m. sketching these various characters and then handed over to him when he got up at 5:00 a.m. and i would go to the beach in the afternoon. but we did it. it was about six friends and how they intersected in life, became part of the establishment. we brought it down the street to a woman who was then clay felker's secretary of new york magazine and was just becoming an agent and is now what is called a superagent oort uber agent, amanda orban. and she said i'll bring you down the street further to alex
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matey. we got halfway through a three sentence pitch and alice interrupted us, she's a very patient person and said yes, guess i've always wanted to do that book and advice wanted to call it the wise man. and so it was. that's how we wrote our first book when we're in our early twenties. it was a book about the wise men of the american political establishment. it was particularly interesting because back then the who we interviewed and every sketch of him and this book is somebody who was far too smart to be had than half as smart and twice as, you know, wise it would've been a great man. but two is a little bit too smart. but mac bundy said there is no such thing as the establishment. so we went down to the archives of the lyndon johnson, johnson library and there's this wonderful memo from mac bundy were we start the books they there is no such thing as the establishment. and then there's this memo that
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andy had written called docking from the establishment. as a memo to johnson about how you had to get the establishment on your side from the vietnam war. he said the key to these people as john mccloy, one of the characters in our book. and he says we should convene them together and we can dump them the wise men and they will do whatever we want. so that's the joy of the documents in the interviewing, which is the way a journalist tries to take on history. it was helpful when i did henry kissinger because every time i looked up the memos in the document, they seemed rather misleading until winston loy told me guess if you work for henry mcgill writes three versions of every memo. one is for the files and is totally untrue. one is for nixon and has its particular slant. and what is for henry's personal files and that's when we tell the real story. so i'm trying to get out the right documents. i did ask dr. kissinger about this. he said yes if i had known now
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what i knew then about the documents i could never have written a dissertation using just documents. i now realize the documents have to be supplemented by talking to the real people. but kissinger was a true believer that it was people that narrative tales told to people, which is the theme of this book, is important. he was once on the shuttle mission in 1974 between syria and israel shuttling back and forth. he said to the people on his plane, when i was a professor i used to think great forces saved history, but now that i see it up close, i see the importance of real people in the process. and so, to me it was looking at the personality of henry kissinger, his brilliance in his detachment from some of the moral strands that underlie american foreign-policy. that made me want to write about him. he was not exactly thrilled with
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my book. [laughter] today he read it right as it was coming out, i got seven letters in the space of maybe eight hours like one in our hand delivered at me at the time life building of henry kissinger would dictate a letter saying it's absolutely outrageous you with tank that i have less than total respect for gerald ford's intelligence or something like that. and poor aide, henry kissinger, had to come to the time life building and come downstairs and i get each new letter. the aid was that jerry bremer who ended up becoming our viceroy in iraq. we'll still joke about it. he told me that be the viceroy in iraq was only a little bit less difficult than being a henry kissinger's personal assistant. kissinger didn't speak to me for quite a while. he was.
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when i became editor of time we invited for the 75th anniversary all people who had been on the cover of time to come back to a party. and i was wondering whether he would come. the phone rings in my office and my susan says it's henry kissinger. i pick up the phone and he says well, walter, and my first reaction is this is either henry kissinger or its greed and carter during his kissinger accent. so i can't fall for this. i just have to not say anything. and kissinger said, even a hundred years war had to end at some point. i will come to her party. so i think i.t. know that people and nations don't have any permanent phrase or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. that said, having gone to the process with dr. kissinger, i decided next time around to write about somebody who had been dead for 200 years. that was dr. franklin. i wanted to write about the
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realism in american foreign policy because kissinger, for all of his controversy, was the greatest realist or real politic thinker understanding the balance of power, understanding the forces and series of influences, not being cut up by sentimentality or emotionalism, but just figuring out national interest. he only person who had it not equally well as benjamin franklin, who is our envoy in paris who was able to do the quintessential great american thing when american foreign-policy work, which is to weaken or ideals with their interests. we've been realism with idealism. so besides writing these wonderful tracks that franklin did when he built himself a printing press in paris he wrote these tracks about liberty in america, printed the declaration of independence and all the great tracks. he also wrote memos to berzon, the french foreign minister talking about the balance of power in europe, about why the
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bourbon pact nations such as france and the netherlands should come in our side of the revolution. and it was a great triumph of realism. i also discovered that benjamin franklin was a wonderful scientist, totally interested in science. in fact, he would've thought people were philistines if they weren't into science. we think of msm dude flying a kite in the rain, but those lectures the experience where the most important experiments of the time and the single fluid theory of electricity was the most important scientific theory of the. after newton's theory of gravity. and it occurred to me that people in our generation, who are not scientists, sometimes just flinch from science. we would be what franklin would call the philistines. we don't keep up with all the sciences. we have friends who would admit to not knowing the difference between hamlet and were not know the difference between four
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shakespeare plays. but they were happy that they don't know the difference between a gene in a chromosome or uncertainty principle and relativity theory. so i want to say hey science is just as magical, just as interesting. we can all love it just as we can let shakespeare which is difficult or stravinsky who is difficult. and i wanted to do a three person until obviously i didn't through auburn einstein. my daughter and her wisdom i start with her wisdom in the book and end with it although on the write up your outlook play what an idiot she is on a couple things. raking her computer, losing things, that sort of thing. but it was emerson's quote i think that all biography of autobiography and she told me that. i said yes because writing about benjamin franklin was writing about an idealized version myself. someone who is a printer, age or less a newspaper person.
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a social networker, a striver in the meritocracy. and i could relate to ben franklin or that entrepreneur who wanted to be part of the media world and so. so i said to betsy, while what was i doing when i wrote about einstein and she said well you are writing about your father, which is true. my father is an engineer, loves ryan, sort of a secular jewish coming humanist, wonderful person. and just as einstein wrote my father is my hero. and i said that makes sense. okay smarty-pants what was i doing when i was ready not kissinger? she said well that, you're writing about your dark side. [laughter] all of my career i've always been interested in technology and the role of technology. and technology is changing the way we do narrative
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storytelling. paper is a wonderful, wonderful technology for narrative. electronic media isn't great for narrative. you hop around, it you jump around from link to link. as opposed to sitting around the fireplace and let me make it a narrative. that is why i think in the future electronic media will always coexist with paper. i think we will someday realize that paper is an awesomely good technology and as much as we admire electronic ways of getting information, if we had been getting our information electronically for 400 years, on screens. and some latter day gutenberg had come along i can say take all that and put them on a page and put it together and deliver it to your doorstep and you can take it into the backyard of the bathtub or on the bus. you would say wow, paper, that's a great new type elegy that will
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replace the internet sunday. [laughter] i think that will be able to use digital and electronic technology to do all sort of things. i think my next book will include music and words and as you're reading? will see things and it will come up from the page. but i also know that the narrative will always work better in book form. during the early 1990's at "time" magazine i was very involved at the beginning of the new media age, even before the invention of the world wide web. we at america online and prodigy and compuserve. and we would take the magazine and not dump it on a a while or prodigy, that would make deals with aol and prodigy that we would form communities, social networks on everything from politics to health, and our journalism would either but so what journalist and would have taverns in discussions and bulletin boards. and that was a sense of
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community. and we got paid for it. aol would bid a million dollars at the end of the her to say okay but are on iowa. compuserve would try to match it or go higher. and each year we were making money by creating communities online. from the world wide web came along and in some ways it was bad. because a couple things happened. first of all of the web we said wow this is great. we are no longer in this walled garden of online services. we can control everything. as we took the entire magazine and put it online. but we would let people drive by and surf by and read the magazine. we weren't creating a community. at the very most of it was a sort of comment section at the end of the article, but nobody did that. they came by, read the magazine, and moving on. so we lost the notion of community. the good thing is that's changed tack. just in the past five years social media, social networking,
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youtube, twitter, facebook, myspace him of that notion of creating communities around ideas that content had cut back. the other thing we did when we threw everything online is we assumed that we would, you know, you subscribe to it just like he did anything else, but as soon as we did it that wired magazine, "time" magazine, other places created these banner ads up top and suddenly people for madison avenue were making a four block walk to us with the satchels of cash money to dump on our desk and say we want to buy ads. we want to be part of this new thing. and so we decided to make it advertising only supported and not charge people, not have subscriptions. and we thought by getting a lot of traffic would be able to exceed with an advertising only model. one of henry luce's other thoughts was if you created a publication solely for advertising your not only doing something that's morally a
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porous, it's also economically self defeated. in the end you have to be beholding more to your users, to your readers. and we got away from that what we thought everything had to be free. we kept quoting stuart rands that information has to be free without quoting the second half of it is that information also has to be expensive because there's nothing more valuable than the right information at this time at the information age. so i do think that that's a great challenge facing print, facing books, facing journalism is how will the creators of content he paid? integument journalists and newspapers although they are in the front line being decimated. there is a sector weight because on the frontlines are people creating music. in the digital age, you can copy anything. music, story, someday even a book. and you can make hundreds of thousands of copies with the margin virtually zero.
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this is not good as a business model for people who want to create content and get paid for it. for 300 years ever since a statue of demand was established in britain, people who created something, an idea, piece of music, photograph, a journal, a book. if it got copied, they had the right to the properties. that's why we call it copyright. but in the digital age comes the thing that frightens me most is that notion as you can create content and get paid for it in a digital realm is sort of disappeared in the realms of music and the realms of anything else. if you're going to have another 300 years of people creating things, people writing books, people were keen for newspapers, harry evans, then somehow or another we're going to have to get back to the fact that these people are not just going to do it for the ego or for the fun.
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they have to pay the rent, put food on the table. will have to get back to assist or whether you're a musician or photographer or a writer people copy your work. you should make a little money for it. and so to me, i hope that i have had, i know i've had a really good time with the writing life. i really hope that with the next generation will also have that ability with all the wonderful tools of the digital age, but also the ability to make a good living at the so-called writing law. thank you very much. [applause] >> okay, we've got about 20 minutes for questions. and we've got our m-mike here in the middle this evening because c-span is here. >> do you want to answer them or should i? >> can you hear me okay? >> there is a microphone bare, but you go first.
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>> i would like to ask if there is anyone in public life today that you would compare to kissinger, some wearing was a realist and to give our interest and is not sentimental? >> yeah, there was a come back, you know, i have a new introduction because it's critical of him for being too much of a realist. for not taking idealism and our values into account. but then, somehow and in both democrats and republicans would begin a little bit lets invade the world and every place in the world and impose our values. i said we might need a dose of realism these days. so the comeback of realism is led by people like colin powell who i truly admire. but scowcroft y. think is the wise man of our time. and a lot of people who i think were cautious about some of our overseas adventurism, but understand that both our interests and our values have to be woven together.
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and if i had to pick somebody i would say okay, what should we be doing on a big issue, so i realist like colin powell would. let me get this gentleman and then i'll repeat his question because he can't make it here. >> you didn't mention in your career, impressive career of writing, that you also were chair i believe of the commission looking into the storage of vietnam. can you tell us -- >> i was interested as an historian of vietnam. i was too young to be drafted or fight in vietnam, but obviously it's going through your generation. and so when the ford foundation and susan baris and many other people said you know vietnam is now one of our most natural allies, but there's one big thing stopping it. it's the fact that we left
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dioxin. we left agent orange at the banks and we sprayed it all over and we haven't cleaned it up yet and we forgotten about it. but in the account everyday barricades with birth defects. there's fishermen who can't fish in the legs because of the day off and we behind. and sometimes this is where the aspen institute can come in. the american government could not easily admit all the blame for this and then be liable for every birth defect or every possible, you know, illness or so in vietnam. but the american government obviously wanted to do some in. so it couldn't do it directly so we raised money for the ford foundation, the gates foundation than others. we cleaned up the dioxin and agent orange that was left at the airbase and contained it. the military has been good, the u.s. government under bush and now under obama has but two or
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3 million each year to help with the cleanup. and nobody has remit fault. nobody had to say we're liable for this number of birth defects or whatever but let's just clean it up like a good person would do if you've made a mess. and sometimes you just need practical solutions instead of everybody getting on an ideological high horse. kathy and i went to vietnam maybe three years ago and went to the airbase and sell the containment projects. we were helping them with rehabilitation centers because instead of just saying we are guilty, let's be sued for people and anybody with a birth defect, creating rehabilitation centers and you can try and solve problems not debate them. yes sir? >> through the extensive interviewing you have done through the years, what checks do you employ when interviewing someone has not fabricated their story? >> well, that's the mark of all journalism, which is who is
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telling you the truth unto wizards. and bookmarks to employ? we all might have to talk to people and sometimes were misled. there is obviously the two source rule which is sometimes made fun of, but you want to at least get two different versions of a story whenever you can. you also need documentation. i remember talking my first long interviews for the first book ever did, the wise man. and this is not an insidious somebody try to tell me something that isn't true but is john mccloy, one of the most honorable people of all time. and john mccoy tells me the story of right before they dropped the atom bomb, you can sort of the back row of a cabinet meeting. he's an assistant secretary of war and everybody's going along with it. and he says and i get up and i say to the president before we dropped the bomb, we should think about this. and it's this great seeing you want to write. and then you go back to the
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document that he stole the story a few times before. and frankly, like a lot of my stories and some of yours it gets better each time. if i went back to him telling it in 1949 to henry stimson who has the simpsons diaries is it's not i got up and told the president. it's afterwards i said and then i found the notes in the documents of the meeting as well as the diaries of the meeting. mccloy hadn't gotten up and said that. i actually think he believes he did because over the years he kept telling it. but it was afterwards he talked to a few people as they put together a way of looking at providing a warning to the emperor or letting the emperor's day. so there was a kernel of truth to it but it was an embellished story. his ego back to the document, you ask other people. certainly i won't name names but there were people like when mac bundy tells you there's no such such thing as this and you go back and they're certain people who aren't telling you the truth and you are -- i don't think
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i've been fundamentally misled yet. yes sir? [inaudible] >> thank you, mr. isaacson. my question is vidor praise for social networking which is a little strange as a journalist of another generation not necessarily mine. i'm wondering if you're afraid of the potential deleterious consequences of social networking, blogging, etc. as losing out on the visceral kind of connections that you made as a young journalist in louisiana, being replaced by people that are maybe handy with google and have a pithy one-liner every now and then but failed to make really a human connection that you talked about in louisiana, et cetera. >> that's a good question and there are two parts to it.
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i don't consider blogging and social networking because blogging is just another way of writing a column in publishing it. whereas social networking is more user generated community. so i'll make the distinction. it's both kind of worried me. and what worries me in particular is cast since dean has a good book about this called tipping two extremes or whatever is that when there is a technology worth thousands of possible places you can go for possible information. versa ball, you're not going to make a lot of money blogging, social networking, whatever. so you can express opinions, you're not actually going to go to donate. you're not actually going to be in helmand province. that takes a lot of money. it takes a big organization. and so the lone blogger. people say why do we need newspapers. if it hadn't been for a newspaper or a magazine like time, i never would've gone to
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any of these places. you need an industrial organization that can help say okay will train as journalists, pay is way. so you lose out on reporting. what particular happens in the blogosphere and the digital realm including cable tv is when there's hundreds of choices, the way you attract and not in is to be a little bit louder, more opinionated, more provocative than others. when i was growing up to show how old i am, you know, i remember a newscast that would say that's the way it is. it would be walter cronkite and for him to succeed because they're only three networks he had to try to get at least a third of the population watching. to succeed at cable tv now, whether it's fox news or anything else you need to get maybe 2% of the nation watching, 3% of the nation watching. so what should do is go after a hard-core audience who you can
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excite ideologically, rather than try to get a mass audience where you have to sort of not offend people, but by offending people you can usually get the five or 10% that agree with you. and so you have a much more offensive and diagnostic type of meeting. thirdly, even when i was that cnn, if we put on fox was putting on ben opinionated talk shows. we were still the leader when i was there, but o'reilly was coming on, whatever. no matter how much you pay o'reilly or hannity is a lot cheaper pain and talkshow format than having chris john aubin pour in tehran and nic robertson in baghdad and doing a reporter. i still try to have reported news that cnn be the core of it with anderson cooper, aaron brown, and many others.
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it is cheaper and it's easier to get a solid audience for last by having very strong opinionated talk shows. and that goes not just for cable tv but for the blogosphere as well. and the blog is here, if your pc, if you have those great one-liners, you can get a following just as surely as if you were really courageous and scraped up all of your money and went uncovered what's happening in helmand province now in afghanistan. so that worries me as well. what is the antidote to that? one of the antidote is what i talked about at the beginning of may speech. if we have a system where people could pay for it. most news would still be free, most news would be generic. opinions would be freak as they proliferate on the web. but if people get paid for it easily, you would need a whole lot of people. if one 10th of them, 5 million
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will pay $2 a month were talking about more money than "the new york times" company. you can have a golden age of journalism is good reported journalism were valued. if people would pay for it and we had a mindset in the system that allowed people to pay for it. i do also think that we have to have a society that doesn't get quite as polarized. cable tv, talk radio, the internet has become polarizing because, you know, you get your padre tribal leaders and then people go into the cul-de-sac, there are colder and the internet where their views get reinforced as they're just talking to and not having to listen to walter cronkite. secondly they go to their own end of the talk radio dial and their views get reinforced. so to me, these are all trends that need to be countered, but there is a deep desire in the most americans i think for real news, reliable information


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